If you are struggling with anxiety, you must have heard promotional claims about this or that thing having the power to help you cope. While others are merely rumors, there are trending products which are scientifically proven to relieve you of worry.
One such product is the weighted blanket which surged in popularity in recent years.
Even some health experts would recommend weighted blankets as an alternative to conventional approaches to healing anxiety. It may not be the answer, but reviews from people who used them testify to the products’ effectiveness.
What are Weighted Blankets?
Weighted blankets are similar to other cozy throws. However, unlike regular sheets, weighted blankets typically contain tiny glass sand or plastic pellets, which usually weight 10 to 30 pounds. These pellets spread over the user’s body while they relax or sleep.
The weight of the blanket depends on a person’s preference, and there are no standardized recommendations.
Many experts, however, advise that the blanket should be 10% of your body weight to achieve optimum benefits and prevent downsides such as possible choking or occurrence of respiratory problems.
During the previous decades, weighted blankets and similar items such as weighted vests were used for therapeutic purposes and as a tool for people with autism. Occupational therapists and parents also utilized weighted blankets to lower the stress and agitation of people struggling with autism.
There are numerous types of weighted blankets these days. But one of the most sought-after and famous is the queen size weighted blanket.
How Weighted Blankets Help Heal Anxiety
The role of a weighted blanket in healing anxiety relates to a theorized mechanism of action called, deep pressure touch stimulation, also known as DPTS or deep pressure.
That is according to Dr. Justin Scanlan, a professor of occupational therapy and a clinical expert on mental health at the University of Sydney.
Deep pressure refers to the pleasant and soothing feeling as a result of various ways of compression-based touch such as massage, hug, and swaddle. According to Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, a psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a lot of people like the feeling of pressure against their body and find this pressure relaxing and calming.
Dr. Scanlan adds, deep pressure is considered helpful towards reducing the psychological arousal linked to anxiety by acting on the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
If you have been struggling with anxiety, you must have noticed that many symptoms of anxiety are physical. Although anxiety manifestations in the body are complex, studies show that the ANS plays a significant role in these.
Based on the Merck Manual, the ANS is composed of two components, namely, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic part serves as the body’s flight-or-fight response. When you are drawn to a stressful environment, it increases the rate of your heart and breathing, leading to physical symptoms such as a pounding heartbeat and shortened breath.
On the other hand, the parasympathetic component helps calm you down during stressful moments.
Therefore, it helps you conserve energy, which you would have devoted to ranting and swearing. In short, it is your “chill” division.
Relevantly, weighted blankets help provide deep pressure that may weaken your sympathetic drive and promote calmness and relaxation.
To further strengthen the role of weighted blankets towards anxiety healing, here are some scientific findings and reviews.
What Does Science Say About Weighted Blankets?
According to Dr. Justin Thomas, director of the Birmingham Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic at the University of Alabama, there is very little scientific evidence on weighted blankets, considering its role in helping a person cope with anxiety.
But experts on weighted blankets do have some small studies associated mainly on self-reported reviews.
One of these studies is published in the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association in 2016. Results show that weighted blankets somewhat shifted the autonomic nervous system response among people undergoing wisdom tooth removal under local anesthesia.
Another research involved 60 healthy adults for the experimental group (used the blankets) and the control group (those without blankets) and assessed their heart rate throughout the process.
Findings revealed that the patient’s heart rate variability (HRV) showed positive signs. For instance, the patient’s parasympathetic activity increased when they used weighted blankets.
Dr. Scanlan also studied 70 patients in a psychiatric unit sensory room which contained various items such as a rocking chair, books, and weighted blankets. Based on the results, those who used the blankets “reported significantly greater reductions in distress, as well as significantly greater reductions in ratings of anxiety as reported by clinical staff.”
Moreover, a 2015 study in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders, discovered that the participant’s sleeping time increased while their nighttime movements decreased when they used weighted blankets.
The same participants cited that it was easier to fall asleep with the weighted blanket and that they feel energized the following morning.
In 2006, one of the journals in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health revealed that 63% of participants showed lower anxiety after using a weighted blanket compared to those without any blankets at all. Among them, 78% testified that they felt more rejuvenated and refreshed utilizing the blanket than nothing.
The study also disclosed that the use of weighted blankets is safe for healthy adults and has no side effects on vital functions such as pulse and blood rate.
Though there is a lack of sound research on the role of weighted blankets to healing anxiety, that does not mean that they are not useful for anyone.
Dr. Scanlan himself recognizes “informal feedback from a range of people,” proving that weighted blankets helped relieve their anxiety and other similar issues such as sleep deprivation.